Week Twelve (Tues, Apr. 12): Adapting



John Laroche: You know why I like plants?....Because
they are so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process.
Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.

Susan Orlean: Yeah but it's easier for plants.
I mean they have no memory. They just move on
to whatever's next. With a person though, adapting
is almost shameful. It's like running away.

.... What I came to understand is that change is not
a choice.
Not for a species of plant, and not for me.

I. Coursekeeping

today and Thursday: we're discussing Spike Jonze's Adaptation
as a contemporary "evolution" ("adaptation?") in narrative form

this Friday, your third webproject is due: 3-4 pp. on some aspect of the evolution of literary or filmic stories that particularly interests--or is useful--to you

next week, there are no required readings: on Tuesday, Paul and I will both make some summary comments about what we've been learning this semester; on Thursday, we'll have our final small group discussions about what we all have been learning from one another....

AND! you should begin getting organized
for our final shared activity: during the last week of classes we will "bring it all together" by "telling each other new stories": In spontaneously formed emergent groups of four or so, prepare 10-15 minute presentations reflecting on y/our experiences over the semester. Use the presentations to encourage, in a provocative and entertaining way, further story development on the part of others in the class. (Think of this as a public alternative to an exam: showing-and-telling one another what we've learned, what directions most interest us.)

next week, we'll ask you to tell us what group you're in
(so we can figure out how many we have, who'll go when, how long you'll have, etc.);
but we don't need to know ahead of time what you're going to do

a number of you have done this before: a few retrospectives on
this activity, from ckosarek, Dawn, skindeep, Hope, kgrass, rachelr....?

II. So, Paul: afterthoughts from last week's conversation about The Plague?
III. Turning our attention to film adaptation,
w/ a reminder first about our role in this process:

the.believer: I imagine a realm without critics would be a place where there is only room for self-realization and improvement. Without others' critique, we rely on our own judgement…. we would have tales with no connections to any others…. One job of a critic is to find the common grounds…. The critic is the voice that ties together the literary world.

Cremisi: Aren't we all critics, in a way?… Every single person… is deciding which parts of media is the most satisfying… the most tasty. Which parts are to be kept, remembered, and focused on…. literary and science is in a constant rate of turnover. Some ideas are kept, others are not…. Our roles as critics are always active-- we decide what is important, and then, the idea stays around…. We NEED critics to make some kind of hoopla about an idea or event…. if there was no one there to shout out a praise or warning, it seems as though the idea might fizzle away into the atmosphere--perhaps only stumbled upon in some other time and place.

So, critics: let's decide.
Let's participate in the "evolution of literature."

What do we think of Adaptation?
What were our initial, critical reactions to the film?

Should we "keep it around"?

What's the difference between a critique and a theory?
Between being a critic and being a theorist?

Moving from evaluation to explanation, theorizing now: 
how might the film contribute to our ongoing explorations
of both the literature of evolution and the evolution of literature?

Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory, 15-17: theory is endless... an unbounded corpus of writing which is always being augmented... a resource for constant upstagings.... unmasterable... open ended... the condition of life itself... the questioning of presumed results and the assumptions on which they are based. The nature of theory is to undo... what you thought you knew, so the effects of theory are not predictable.
(as opposed to critique: measuring what's new against what you already know??)

IV. Let's think first about genre: what happens when a book is adapted into a film.

What commentary does Adaptation itself offer on the difference between the two forms?
Charlie Kauffman: No one's ever done a movie about flowers before. So there are no guidelines...
I'd wanna let the movie exist, rather than be artificially plot-driven.

Robert McKee: ...and God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That's flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.

How does the experience of watching a film differ from that of reading a novel?
(particularly in terms of perceiving the world "underground," the unconscious??)

what can we say, from the diversity of our experience,
about the difference in genre that making/viewing a movie makes?
how does a film differ as a literary kind from a written narrative?
what can that new form accomplish that a written prose narrative can not?
(and vice versa?)

What happens when a story is put into pictures,
even more particularly, into a sequence of moving pictures?
(novelist/filmmaker Marguerite Duras: "A word contains a 1000 images" --
vs. the more conventional "a picture is worth a 1000 words")

In "Something Quite Different From Dialogue": Accessibility and
Assailability of Pictures, or How Art Works on Us
, Rachel Grobstein said,

Indeed there is something especially in the nature of images and color (compared with words) which seems to suggest an exploration of associations, an opening of possibility, rather than the narrowing down of definition. With words, often one knows what one is trying to say, and the purpose of saying something is to define that idea, to fix it, to deliniate, to establish - to draw a very small box around the concept so that other people can understand (yes, to make the idea both accessible and assailable). But the very notion of purpose limits one's flexibility in exploring an idea. With images (and with words too, which Heidegger wrote about, but so much more easily with images) significations are so clearly not fixed; one can easily move between definitions, between ways of getting at or thinking about a particular thing. Instead of attempting to arrive at an idea, a definition, one can constantly suggest, without ever becoming fixed. And that's the sort of exploration I love in painting - the ability to start with a notion that is loosely or strictly defined...and see what comes of it in a way that takes myself by surprise.

What I'm saying is that it's much harder to escape the notion of "saying" something (no joke intended) when one is using language than when one is using pictures. And I like very much the idea of not trying to translate the very goopy mess of my impressions into something as close to universally understandable as possible, which is exactly what I try and do every time I open my mouth. I'd rather paint something that is meaningful to me (stress on the meaningful, rather than the meaning, because a painting hardly ever carries a specific meaning for me, again, a meaning that I could translate into words).... Insofar as I paint who I am, a "non static and non self-contained" thing... my painting is also not a static thing... let the painting serve as a departure point for whomever wants it for wherever they end up going.
Cf. Virginia Woolf, who deplored the simplification that inevitably occurs in the transposition of literary work to the visual medium, calling film a "parasite," and literature its "prey" and victim." 

Sally Potter said that her adaptation of
Virginia Woolf's Orlando to the screen was a process of

  • distillation,
  • simplification,
  • pragmatism,
  • propulsion,
  • motivation,
  • loss (and the celebration of loss?),
  • the articulation of a political stance
    against property and privilege, and...
  • presentism.

V. What are the (differing?) logics of organization
in Orleans' book and Kauffman's film?

Susan Orlean: There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more managable size.

What does this film in particular suggest about the possibility of the evolution of new stories in filmic form?

Donald Kauffman: Did you know that there hasn't been a new genre since Fellini invented the mockumentary...? My genre's thriller, what's yours?

Charlie Kauffman: I don't want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcome obstacles to succeed in the end. The book isn't like that, and life isn't like that, it just isn't.

Is the film he eventually writes (the one we eventually see)
formulaic precisely in the way he doesn't want it to be?

How well does it follow the guidelines advocated by Robert McKee?
Donald Kaufman: Not rules, principles. McKee writes that a rule says you *must* do it this way. A principle says, this *works* and has through all remembered time.

Robert McKee: I'll tell you a secret. The last act makes the film. Wow them in the end, and you've got a hit.... Find an ending, but don't cheat, and don't you dare bring in a deus ex machina. Your characters must change, and the change must come from them.

Is there a deus ex machina in Adaptation?

Do the characters change?

Susan Orlean: I want my life back. I want it back before everything got fucked up. I want to be a baby again. I want to be new. I WANT TO BE NEW.

To what degree does the film achieve what the.believer described: "tales with  connections to others"?

Charlie Kaufman: "I have no understanding of anything except myself."

VI. To what degree does the self-referentiality of the movie "eat itself"?
To what degree does the "diegesis" (telling) eat/trump/control
the "mimesis" (showing) of the film? (referencing here the Kaufmans'
conversation about "ouroboros").

What role might
ouroboros --self-reflexivity or cyclicality--play in evolution??

VII. Cf. Paths to Storytelling as Life: Fellow Traveling with Richard Rorty:
From Rorty's 1992 essay, "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids": "So, at 12, I knew that the point of being human was to spend one's life fighting social injustice ... But I also had private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests ... [including a] desire to learn all there was to know about orchids ...
If I had not read all those [philosophy] books, I might never have been able to stop looking for what Derrida calls 'a full presence beyond the reach of play', for a luminous, self-justifying, self-sufficient synoptic vision. By now, I am pretty sure that looking for such a presence and such a vision is a bad idea. The main trouble is that you might succeed, and your success might let you imagine that you have something more to rely on than the tolerance and decency of your fellow human beings. The democratic community of Dewey's dreams is a community in which nobody imagines that. It is a community in which everybody thinks that it is human solidarity, rather than knowledge of something not merely human, that really matters. The actually existing approximations to such a ... community now seem to me the greatest achievements of our species. In comparison, even Hegel's and Proust's books seem optional, orchidaceous extras."

VIII. Further reading
Lucas Hilderbrand. "Review: Adaptation." Film Quarterly 2004, 58.1 (Fall): 36-43.
Jonze and Kaufman "rooted their film Adaptation's intertextual mental masturbation in autoerotic fantasy. Legible as a gimmicky self-reflexive exercise, a comedy of narcissistic neurosis, or a proufound self-portrait of artistic endeavor, Adaptation productively narrativizes masturbation's myriad associations, pathologies, and possibilities."
Barbara Simerka and Christopher Weimer, "Duplicitous Diegesis: Don Quijote and Charlie Kaufman's Adapation." Hispania 2005, 88.1: 91-100.
a comparative study centered on "the representation of self-inscriptive narrative acts and the juxtaposition of disparate generic forms to create parody."

Gary Bortolotti and Linda Hutcheon, "On the Origin of Adaptations: Rethinking Fidelity Discourse and 'Success'--Biologically." New Literary History 2007, 38: 443-458.
"As a biologist and a literary theorist... we would like to propose... a homology between biological and cultural adaptation... a similarity in structure that is indicative of a common origin: that is, both kinds of adaptation are understandable as processes of replication ... both evolve with changing environments... biological thinking may help move us beyond... 'fidelity discourse'.... to think anew about the broader questions of why and how certain stories are told and retold.... moving out of an evaluative discourse and into a descriptive one... As Terry Pratchett has reminded us: 'Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling.'"